“Esoteric Traditions in Islam: Past and Present Manifestations,” was the theme of the Annual General Meeting of the Asian Chapter Group of the IIS Alumni Association. The meeting was held from 28–30 March, 2015, in Konya, Turkey, the city where Mevlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, the famous 13th century poet and Sufi mystic, is buried.
The main purpose of the meeting was to bring IIS alumni together and re-expose them to concepts and intellectual discussions that permeated their studies at the IIS. It also provided a conducive forum for alumni to meet and connect with each other across multiple graduating classes.
The meeting commenced with a welcome address by the Chapter-Group President and Secretary, Parisa Sheralieva and Shadi Sharani, respectively. This was followed by Dr. Leonard Lewisohn’s presentation on, “Esoteric Traditions in Islam: the Demarginalisation of Gnosis in the Islamic Intellectual Tradition.” Dr. Lewisohn’s emphasis on the four modes of understanding religion, the principles of phenomenological approach and the approaches to esotericism, was particularly appealing to the audience.
This was followed by Dr Orkhan Mir-Kasimov's session on, "Mysticism and Messianism in the Historical Evolution of Muslim Societies." Dr Mir-Kasimov's discussion and rationale for the continuation of the Prophetic impulse along with the introduction to his publication, "Words of Power - Hurufi Teachings between Shi'ism and Sufism in Medieval Islam," was thought-provoking.
The alumni spent the rest of the day exploring historical and architectural heritage sites and museums, including: the richly decorated Karatay Medrese (built in 1251), and the Ince Minare (built in 1258), both former theological schools now housing a Ceramics Museum, and the Museum of Stone and Wooden Works respectively; the Sircali Medrese (built in 1242), which now contains a museum of Seljuq and Ottoman antiquities; the Sahib-i Ata mosque; and the Konya Archeology Museum (opened in 1962), displaying items dating back to Neolithic, Old and Middle Bronze Age, Iron Age, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The day ended with the alumni attending a performance (semā) by the whirling dervishs of the Mevlavi Order.
The second day of the meeting began with Dr. Toby Mayer’s session on, “Shahrastani’s ‘Standard Measure of Prophecy’ (Mi’yar al-Nabuwwa): Applications to Scripture and Philosophy.” This presentation was followed by Dr. Lewisohn’s examination of, “Reason, Rationality, Intellect and Love in Rumi’s Poetry.” It was an honour to be part of the session in which Dr. Leonard did justice to looking at the notions of intellect, reason and love in Rumi’s works.
In the afternoon, Mr. Shiraz Kabani, Head of Community Relations at the IIS, addressed the alumni, presenting the Institute’s recent achievements and challenges, urging alumni to remain connected to their alma mater. Mr. Kabani’s session was followed by Alumni Showcases during which alumni shared their awe-inspiring perspectives on the realities and challenges of Ismaili communities in Syria, Afghanistan, and Russia.
On the last day, the alumni visited Mevlana Rumi’s and Shams Tabrizi’s mausoleums. As shared by an alumnus:
“Words cannot express that which was felt standing inside Mevlana Rumi’s and then Shams Tabrizi’s mausoleums – a wondrous, spiritual experience. It was the serenity characterising all spaces we visited, during the course of this meeting, that I wish to keep with me – to hold on to and be inspired from as I live my life.”
Lastly, the alumni present at the meeting expressed sincere gratitude to all stakeholders of The Institute of Ismaili Studies, for it is due to their commitment, efforts and profound vision that the alumni can keep alive the process of learning and growth, irrespective of their location.